Study shows plastic ingestion delivers pollutants and additives into animal tissue

lugworm cast

Study demonstrates plastic ingestion delivers pollutants and additives into animal tissue


With global production of plastic exceeding 280 metric tons every year, a fair amount of the stuff is bound to make its way to the natural environment. However, until now researchers haven’t known whether ingested plastic transfers chemical additives or pollutants to wildlife. A new study conducted by an NCEAS researcher shows that toxic concentrations of pollutants and additives enter the tissue of animals that have eaten microplastic. The findings are published today in Current Biology.

There were two primary objectives for the study: to look at whether chemicals from microplastic move into the tissues of organisms; and to determine any impacts on the health and the functions that sustain biodiversity. Lab experiments exposed lugworms (Arenicola marina) to sand with 5 percent microplastic (polyvinylchloride) that also contained common chemical pollutants (nonylphenol, phenanthrene) and additives (Triclosan, PBDE-47). Results showed that pollutants and additives  from ingested microplastic were present in the worms’ tissues at concentrations that compromise key functions that normally sustain health and biodiversity.

“The work is important because current policy in the US and abroad considers microplastic as non-hazardous,” said lead author Mark A. Browne, a postdoctoral fellow at NCEAS. “Yet our study shows that additives, such as Triclosan (an antimicrobial) that are incorporated into plastics during manufacture, caused mortality and diminished the ability of the lugworms to engineer sediments. Large accumulations of microplastic have the potential to impact the structure and functioning of marine ecosystems.”

Microplastic moves pollutants and additives to worms reducing functions linked to health and biodiversity
Mark A. Browne, Stewart J. Niven, Tamara S. Galloway, Steve J. Rowland, Richard C. Thompson
Current Biology, December, 2013

UCSB News Release

More information about Browne's research

During the preparation of the manuscript Browne was supported as a post-doctoral fellow at NCEAS, a Center funded by NSF (Grant # EF-0553768), University of California, Santa Barbara, and the State of California.



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Posted on December 2, 2013